Your imagination might see greatness as someone who has the magic touch of wisdom and success, maybe even with a cape slightly fluttering behind them. But greatness is not the person — it’s the practice.
If it seems like only other people get to be the kind of leader who can build exponential success, Jay Abraham would like to set you straight. For more than 30 years, Jay has been teaching leaders how to create a foundation for whatever success they sought. He is a marketing master and author of influential books such as Getting Everything You Can Out of All You’ve Got. He has helped at least 10,000 clients in 465 industries worldwide increase their bottom lines by more than $9.4 billion. His ideas are so compelling that Publisher Paul Feldman has interviewed Jay four times for the magazine.
Jay says that achieving greatness personally or professionally is not a grand leap over tall buildings, but many steps toward improvement. Just like the title of his most famous book suggests, greatness is within near reach, right among the things and abilities you already have. Knowing the right questions and the honest answers are what builds the map to guide you on your way.
In this interview with Paul, Jay reveals some of those questions and shakes up some perceptions along the way.
FELDMAN: You have worked with a lot of different companies in more than 500 different industries and you’ve seen what makes companies special. Usually it starts with people at the top thinking differently. Tell me some things about what people are not doing when they’re thinking and planning for their companies — and what they should be doing.
ABRAHAM: Let’s take the concept of thinking differently and break it into a couple of elements. The first element is a surprise. In big companies, $50 million to $100 million, the leader is not really a great leader. But also, he or she is not a strategist. This type of leader tends to be very tactical. They don’t have a long game.
The activities in marketing, interrelationships, prospect-building and migration are not really integrated into a strategically well-honed and sustainable machine.
These leaders do have episodic, static and erratic activities. They don’t really focus on growth in terms of growing their peoples’ ability, knowledge and success. They don’t understand preeminence.
Preeminence is a long and powerfully meaningful differentiation that I’ve done work on before. The leaders I’m talking about here don’t understand that difference between preeminence and prominence.
They don’t really appreciate what it’s like to be on the recipient side. And recipient refers to two different categories.
The first category is their team members and the second is the prospect. Leaders don’t really understand that the way to get people to be attracted and then committed, and then loyally stay, is by representing three things: value that they define and appreciate, understanding empathy, and sustainable connection.
Most people in your industry don’t have good sustainable connection, whether they’re in the life, investment or property/casualty segments of the industry.
I’ve got eight cars — they’re all expensive — I’ve got three homes. I think our insurance people only call us to remind us when the premiums are due. And it’s hilarious because relationship-building is one of the keys to success in that industry.
FELDMAN: How do you get to exponential thinking?
ABRAHAM: The first thing is to extend yourself and travel outside your industry. The more you travel, the more you see differing lifestyles, different climates, differing geography, topography, morals, clothes, architecture. The more you travel outside your industry, the more you are exposed to a myriad of higher, better-performing, more powerful, effective and impactful alternative ways to market, sell, communicate, access, migrate, convert, retain. You learn all the different ways to refer. You learn all the different relational capital sources.
You learn how to use media much more masterfully. You learn what value means in different sectors. You learn how relevancy is a dynamic concept that changes continuously. You have to understand what relevancy means at the moment to different factions you deal with. You learn all kinds of things that can perform better, safer, faster, more high-yielding now and more residual-yielding later.
The most powerful realization is that most entrepreneurs engage in activities that are suboptimal, meaning they could replace or expand their marketing, selling, sourcing. There’s no law that says you have to approach your market in only one form.
We teach what’s called the Power Parthenon. It’s building your business on a multitude of complementary access points, distribution modes, sources. These feed into your business so that you are far more prone to be working on the geometry of the business instead of singularly doing what everybody else does.
I’ve been working on what’s called optimization methodology. I first learned it from the Deming Organization. He (W. Edwards Deming) was the father of manufacturing optimization process improvement.
I then worked for the largest multivariable testing organization in the world, Qual-Pro. And they tested about 100,000 variables that could affect the performance of a salesperson, products on a shelf in retail, a salesperson in the store, a phone room.
And you see variation that can be 20-30 times and there are about 51 different leverage points in a revenue-generating system. Everyone’s got a system, even if it’s dysfunctional, that can be improved. Nobody even knows what the impact points or the leverage factors are.
FELDMAN: Can you give us a couple of ways to expand marketing?
ABRAHAM: Sure. If I were counseling a professional, the first thing I would do is try to find out who within that professional’s existing client base had affiliations with organizations or associations.
And we would go to those organizations and become their recommended advisor. And as such we would create and disseminate from that organization all kinds of educational material. We would fund activities that the organization would sponsor.
They would keep all the proceeds if it were for profit. If we wanted to get to the outside market, we would find four or five complementary professionals that were in no way, shape or form competitive and we would get them to fund all of our marketing. And we’d create a full-day activity designed for whoever our target audience was — high-net-worth people or entrepreneurs or CEOs — when we wanted to really get the relationships of different kinds of target prospects.
We would figure out a holistic way that impacted them in other forms. For example, I’ll use medical. When specialists are trying to get referrals from generalists, their default method is to knock on the door and introduce themselves and take them out to lunch or dinner.
It’s very ineffective, particularly if the generalist already has another provider. We started looking at what that generalist was really struggling with in their life; things like managing their business, controlling costs, dealing with their own stress, weight loss.
We would provide information to them on behalf of the specialist that would deal with more holistic things and we would win their trust and also their cases. When it comes to media, we would do all kinds of surveys and unique things that we would co-brand with either local, regional or national media that would become the default event people would look forward to reading in the magazine every six months. We did all kinds of different surveys that were co-branded.
If you don’t get referrals, it says that you have a very, very poorly-bonded relationship with them. If you get referrals intermittently, it’s because you don’t have a strategic, systematic approach in place.
When I do seminars — which I used to do all the time — I would say, “Whose business is between 50 and 100 percent predicated on referrals? Please stand up.”
And it would be a third or half the room. I’d say, “OK, let’s go around and randomly see how many dollars it is and how much percentage of the business it is.” And it was usually profound relative to the business.
Then I would say, “Now remain standing if you have in place at least one formalized, systematic referral-generating process that you adhere to at all times for all the staff so that you’re maximizing the referral process.”
Ninety percent would sit down. Then I’d ask how many had two, and 90 percent of them would sit down. Three? Everybody would sit down.
There are so many different stratagems. One is that you start the very relationship by saying referral generation is the bedrock of your business. You establish in the beginning what clients should expect from you above and beyond your contemporaries.
You can say, “We hold ourselves to a high report card. At certain intervals, we want to be judged. We will ask you to refer every year in order to remain our client because we’re going to invest a lot more into you than you will imagine. You give us two quality referrals such as yourself. The reason we want referrals is because that frees us from diverting time, attention and capital on marketing and advertising, and we can invest more in support and service and research and representation of you.”
That’s one approach. Another approach is when you have lots of activities at different convergent points where you have your clients bring colleagues from another field.
And they can be high-level briefings on emerging trends. They don’t have to have anything to do with insurance. They can be investment. They can be regulatory, but not regulatory for insurance, but regulatory in the industry, human resource, marketing, selling, online — anything that adds value. And you invite your clients and they can bring one or two others along. You can do all kinds of social events that are unique.
FELDMAN: I know that you’ve worked with insurance and financial advisors and you continue to work with them. What are some things that advisors should do that could cause them to have a breakthrough without doing that much?
ABRAHAM: The first thing is to add value continuously to their client base. The second is to connect with their client base more frequently but with value. The third is to get their client base to see them caring more about their well-being and not just their account. Even with my accountant, he comes around once every six months and in the meantime, I’m fending for myself unless I call him up and engage him in billing.
Look at your list and value correlations. Obviously there’s the 80/20 rule. But there’s some really cool methodology that’s 20/20/20 and goes down to like 4 percent.
But start with the 80/20 and look at where the majority of the revenue is coming from, both direct and referral, and then ask yourself, “Am I investing accordingly?” All categories of prospects are not worth the same amount of time and investment. You’ve got to see what’s called an allowable cost — what you can afford to invest in order to grow.
You’ve got to decide whether you really want to be a sophisticated, strategic marketer or an erratic and occasional tactician. Or you can decide to be none of the above and just be a very, very poor networker trying to troll occasionally and get whatever.
The role of an entrepreneur or business leader is to be the strategist, to spend very deep, reflective thinking time.
He or she has to master this trilogy of skill sets. They have to have hindsight so they can understand what they’ve done well and what they’ve not done well. A lot of people basically just keep digging holes. The more stressed they get or the more marginal their business, the faster and deeper they dig holes.
First of all, they never ask whether they should dig a hole. Second, if the answer is yes, should they be digging where they’re digging? If the answer is no, where should they be digging? When they get the answer to that, should they be digging it with a spoon or a power trowel?
Three, should they be the one digging?
FELDMAN: Strategic thinking is a challenge for a lot of people. What are some steps to start thinking strategically? How do you get yourself from that linear mindset to an exponential mindset?
ABRAHAM: The key to greatness is somebody who has a concept of how much is possible. I have a continuous debate between coaches and mentors. I think mentors are superior to coaches for a very meaningful reason. A coach typically —no diminishment of their value — will say, “Paul, let’s figure out what you want to do and let’s work backwards and plan to do it.”
They’ll accept your vision, which is normally a fraction of what really could be possible now and on a residual basis.
A mentor says, “OK, Paul. Tell me what you want to do. And let’s listen and then evaluate it.” And because they have a concept from outside of what’s possible, they’ll say, “Paul, I’m not going to allow you to subordinate and diminish your aspirational and achievemental level just because you don’t believe that a far higher achievement is possible.”
There are two ways to build. One is to come up with a one-of-a-kind, very rare, outrageous breakthrough that in itself can catapult you 10 times up. That’s very rare and very hard.
The other is to create a number of improvements in everything you do, a number of replacements and ways of doing things better, a multitude of access points. And all those cumulatively give you hundreds and hundreds of percent increase with very great safety and no big risk. They can all be done very easily and pragmatically, meaning you do them one at a time.
When I work privately with a client, we break their business into two parts: What they’re doing now, and what they should, could and must be doing if they really want to go for breakthrough thinking, for monumental and orders-of-magnitude type of growth both financially and personally. But what we start with is that almost everything they’re doing now is underperforming and we try to make it better. It can even be something like how the office signage is presented. By changing each of the elements, you can double or redouble your business.
We’ve tested things such as the way people start a sales presentation on the phone. It’s laughable, but even today, the majority of people who are trying to connect by phone are shocked when they get voicemail.
When that happens, I have in my quiver a sequence of very provocative, powerful and meaningful messages that I will leave that are not just, “This is Jay trying to catch up.” I get callbacks or I have a dialogue that keeps building relationships with people.
There’s strategy to everything and most people don’t grasp it.
FELDMAN: Is there anything that you might want to add? Do you want to add to what we’ve discussed thus far?
ABRAHAM: There are two things I’d like to add. There are two quotes I always use. They’re not original, but they’re so powerful in their implication. The first one is that most entrepreneurs and business owners struggle perpetually and are tormented non-verbally.
It means they never say this out loud, but they’re tormented with two very destructive questions. And the questions that they torment themselves with are, “Am I worthy of this goal? Can I compete today with all the changes, with the lowered commissions, with the rigid constraints of regulation?”
When you realize how much more is possible from time, effort, opportunity and investment in all these new ways of doing things, the right thing to ask is not whether you are worthy of the goal. But is your current goal worthy of you and how much is possible?
When you start realizing that most of us have been content with a mere fraction of a fraction of what is possible — boy, then the question changes and you start getting excited.
The next quote is laughably true. It’s from a famous advertising icon, Leo Burnett: “If you reach for the moon and the stars, one thing is certain. You won’t end up with a handful of mud.”
Most people think that to become innovative you must have technological breakthroughs. Technology can absolutely be an accelerator to your ability to be innovative. But all innovation really means is bringing greater benefit, advantage, value, protection to a target audience in a way that they value it and desire it immediately from you.
How you deliver it technologically is not what you’re really focused on. You’re focused on this concept of contributing greater value. Value needs to be defined by the audience.
FELDMAN: You’ll be speaking at our event in September. Do you have any words that you’d like to share for our readers on why they just have to be there?
ABRAHAM: Yes. Because I’m on a mission and a crusade. I’ve been doing this for a long time. Anybody who does a search on me will see the reputation I’ve created worldwide and the advocates and champions I’ve built.
I plan to present three different integrative parts: One is to share very clearly and profoundly the elements of being preeminent, of being really the most respected, the most trusted, the most important factor in your client’s life, for life.
The second is I’d like to do a rapid-paced distillation of all the more powerful, more profitable, more efficient, effective and impactful ways other companies in other industries are doing what you do in your industry. And I’d like to also break down the revenue impact points people never look at.
Then with those two pieces of knowledge squarely instilled, installed, downloaded, actuated, we’ll do a couple of hours of problem-solving questions and answers, challenge resolution, and opportunity mining for people.
So I’m not going to give a bunch of superficial veneer axioms that are inspiring but not really transformative or transactional. I’m on a mission to really be the catalyst of monumental growth, change and contribution for everyone I can be exposed to.